Greetings to the WBAI Community,
I send you warm regards and positive thoughts on these waning days of summer, pleased to once again be a part of the WBAI family after a five-year absence. It seems like only yesterday that I did my last broadcast over the airwaves of Pacifica Radio’s flagship station in July 2009, yet now I’m very much looking forward to the next few months of collaboration, camaraderie, and struggle.
As some of you may have heard by now, I am taking on the role of interim Program Director after discussing the current situation at the station with many people associated with WBAI over the last few weeks. The question I continued to ponder was how and if I could factor into any of the potential, constructive solutions for making the station viable once again. I spoke with the station manager, several members of the local board, a number of veteran local and national on-air programmers, and many members of the communities that WBAI serves, including both current and former listeners who remain steadfast in their support of our unique institution, not to mention my own close circle of friends and family. It wasn’t an easy decision to make, knowing the many urgent challenges facing WBAI at the current juncture and how difficult it will be to have a long-term positive impact on the station. But in recognizing the extraordinary efforts made by dozens if not hundreds of people in recent years that have tried to sustain the station as it went through one of its most tumultuous periods in its legendary history, I finally decided to give it a try.
I come to this role with considerable humility, but also a strong conviction that WBAI still has an important role to play in the New York, national and global independent media landscape. I have some ideas and proposals as to what we can do to begin to turn things around, but I am a firm believer that it’s only through deliberation, participation, and collaboration that the station can move in the direction of a sustainable future that will serve as broad and diverse an audience as possible.
So I am eager to meet with many of you in the coming weeks and months to begin constructing a new WBAI, in person, on-line, individually and collectively. After reading the many proposals put forward by a wide variety of WBAI constituents related to rescuing and saving WBAI, I am convinced that we can do this, heartened by the interesting, indeed creative initiatives coming forward about programming, production, training, recruitment, social media engagement, new technology, and perhaps most importantly, fundraising and development. But I think it’s pretty clear that fundraising can only be successful if it is carried out in conjunction with a serious, comprehensive approach to all the other aforementioned items, all necessary prerequisites to rebuild the confidence of our listeners, and the entire community. This process includes finding a permanent home where the studios and offices are joined together once again, and addressing the issue of the exorbitant cost of our transmitter lease fees, which clearly has been a severe hindrance to any movement forward.
I have no false illusions that this is going to be easy, and already, I’ve heard from plenty of naysayers assuring me that this is an effort doomed to failure. I am not naïve, and certainly not new to this radio station. I am aware of the precarious nature of its possibilities for survival. For those of you who don’t know who I am (and I’m operating under the assumption that most of you don’t), I came to WBAI in 1989, as director of public affairs programming at a time of growth and expansion of the station’s membership base and fundraising capacity. I come from the world of radio journalism, with a track record of producing news and public affairs that attempts to shine the light on issues usually relegated to the margins when it comes to the major corporate media (sound familiar?). I’ve worked in commercial news radio, mainstream public radio, university-based radio, and grassroots community radio, always embracing the special responsibility of the broadcaster to serve as a vehicle of communication that can lead to constructive social change.
During my years as public affairs director (1989-1998), we as a staff implemented a comprehensive training and recruitment program, where many of today’s unpaid producers began their creative broadcasting trajectories over our and other airwaves. We streamlined daily programming in the key slots of morning and afternoon drives, creating successful shows out of Wake Up Call and Talkback, while making sense of where many of the other community-oriented specialty programs found themselves on the radio clock. We organized the first successful million-dollar on-air pledge drives, which continued to be the norm for several years as we solidified the membership base and emerged as the financial backbone of the Pacifica Foundation.
During this period, we were out in the community regularly, holding teach-ins and forums, and broadcasting live from all sorts of venues and events. We confronted the racism of the NYPD during episodes like the Central Park Five prosecutions and Amadou Diallo assassination; we challenged the illegality of the build-up to the first Gulf War in 1991, only to see it repeated 12 years later after 9/11; we celebrated Mandela’s release and triumphant visit to Harlem, as well as the 25th anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion, and of Woodstock. We chronicled the struggle to stop the U.S. Navy’s bombardment of the island of Vieques in Puerto Rico, and provided a forum to the valiant activists fighting for just solutions to the unfolding AIDS crisis. The station and its producers won countless broadcasting prizes, from the prestigious Polk Award to NFCB and CPB recognitions in public affairs and arts and cultural programming.
In my brief recollection here, I am only skimming the surface. It was indeed a golden era for WBAI, despite media historians’ consistent tendency to focus on the 1960s as the only relevant time in WBAI’s long history.
By no means do I point to this time frame to tout my own horn, as if this was the result of one person’s work or vision. Quite the contrary. It was the fruit of the labor of a solid team of collaborators that made this period special: from the management and full-time staff to the many unpaid community programmers, from listener supporters and volunteers to members of the local advisory board, many creative, talented, committed people had a hand in the success of WBAI. This is how it needs to be if we are going to build a truly alternative community radio outlet today and into the future.
Now naturally, things are much different today than they were then, and even as recently as five years ago, when I last hosted the morning show on WBAI on Friday mornings. Today we have many other technological tools at our disposal to get our voices heard, but at the same time, listeners now have many more options to receive these same messages. This objective reality provides us both with challenges and opportunities that we must confront and embrace.
So in the spirit of the many talented broadcasters, artists, activists, journalists, documentarians, musicians and technicians that have roamed the halls of WBAI, those still with us and those who have left us, I welcome the opportunity to work with each and every one of you - staff, volunteers and listeners - in the interest of strengthening an institution that in many ways formed me as a journalist, media activist, broadcaster and educator.
Starting this week, I will be away for a few weeks for a long-planned trip out of the country, but upon returning to New York City in early September, I plan to hit the ground running.
In the meantime, feel free to contact me at email@example.com with questions, comments, suggestions, or even a friendly greeting.
Looking forward, always,
Mario A. Murillo
MARIO A. MURILLO BIO:
As an educator, broadcaster, researcher, and activist, Mario A. Murillo has committed himself to the long and rich tradition of public interest, community-oriented radio, and considers citizen’s media as a fundamental tool of civic engagement and political participation. He has worked in commercial, public, community, and university radio for almost 30 years. He was a longtime host and producer on WBAI 99.5 FM Pacifica Radio in New York, where he served as director of Public Affairs Programming from 1989-1998 and anchored its long-running morning show Wake Up Call for over ten years years. An award-winning radio feature reporter and producer, he has reported regularly for NPR's Latino USA, served as guest host on WNYC New York Public Radio’s The Brian Lehrer Show (www.wnyc.org), and has written a regular column for El Diario/La Prensa, New York’s largest Spanish-language daily.
Mario currently is Professor and outgoing Chair of the Radio, Television, Film department in the Lawrence Herbert School of Communication at Hofstra University, and is co-director of Hofstra’s Center for Civic Engagement. He teaches courses in radio journalism and production, media studies, and Latin American studies, among other subjects. He also serves as executive producer of Hofstra’s Morning Wake Up Call, the public affairs news/talk program heard on community radio station WRHU 88.7FM (www.wrhu.org), recently recognized as the number one college radio station in the country by the Princeton Review.
In 2008-2009, Mario spent six months in Colombia, as a Fulbright Scholar, where he worked in the Communication Department of the Universidad Pontifícia La Javeriana in Bogotá, alongside its radio station Javeriana Estereo. His Fulbright research work was carried out in close collaboration with the Communication Committee of the Association of Indigenous Councils of Northern Cauca, ACIN, and focused on the strategic uses of communication of the indigenous movement in Colombia.
He is the author of Colombia and the United States: War, Unrest and Destabilization (Seven Stories, 2004), and Islands of Resistance: Puerto Rico, Vieques and U.S. Policy (Seven Stories, 2001). Mario has studied and written about community media, both in the United States and Latin America for many years, his articles and essays published in academic journals and collected essays in the U.S. and abroad.
In July 1999 and August 2000, he served as visiting professor at the School of Communication at the Autonomous University of Asunción in Paraguay, where he taught radio journalism classes. He has also conducted radio production workshops at conferences and seminars, both in the United States and throughout Latin America. In the past, he has taught radio production and media studies courses at New York University, the New School for Social Research, and the City College of the City University of New York.
He has a B.A. degree in International Politics and Journalism from New York University, and an M.A. degree in Media Ecology, also from New York University.
Mario A. Murillo